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Immigration debate gets heated during Senate hearing

The Senate Judiciary Committee kicked off a hearing on comprehensive immigration reform this morning, and if rhetorical fireworks were any indication, the debate in the coming weeks and months will be a heated one.

The contentious exchange was between Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), during the opening remarks and before witnesses began their testimony. For those who can't watch clips online, here's my rough transcript:

SCHUMER: ...So if you have ways to improve the bill, offer an amendment when we start markup in May and let's vote on it. I say that particularly to those who are pointing to what happened, the terrible tragedy in Boston as a, I would say, excuse for not doing a bill or delaying it many months or year.

GRASSLEY: I never said that!

SCHUMER: I didn't say you did.

GRASSLEY: I never said that!

There's some crosstalk between them, at which point Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) started complaining, too.

Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) banged his gavel and tried to lower the temperature, promising everyone an open, deliberate process

Of course, the fireworks underscore a lingering question: will the events in Boston last week undermine the reform effort? Or more to the point, how much will immigration reform opponents try to exploit the attacks to stall the bipartisan legislation?

Grassley is apparently feeling a little defensive on the subject, after he became the first senator on the Judiciary Committee to link immigration reform with the Boston Marathon bombing last week. Many other Republicans -- some activists, some lawmakers -- were willing to go further last week, suggesting the reform bill should be on indefinite hold because of the attack.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) took the next step today, saying in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that the legislative process "should not proceed" until the connections between immigration and national security are explored in more detail.

I'm generally skeptical about Boston's impact on immigration debate -- over the weekend, it seemed opponents had new terrorism-focused talking points, but weren't winning new coverts -- though this clearly adds a new wrinkle to an already complex legislative fight.